Home Cooked: Why Does Cooking For Yourself Feel So Satisfying?

Home Is Where The Heart Is Or The Kitchen Is The Heart Of The Home

Every time I step into the kitchen to cook meal prep for the up coming weeks, I get a little excited. The atmosphere is soothing, with music playing quietly in the background while I’m burning a candle and the lights are dimmer than usual. The setting is cozy, warm and inviting. This is my image of what the Danes call, Hygge. Not to mention all of the delicious meals I make!

And there’s also a similar feeling when I cook dinner with my family on Friday family dinner night. It’s a little different, we all pitch in and lend a hand so the pressure isn’t all on me to get it done. But the feelings of creating something tasty together are the same, with the added bonus of good conversation. The music still plays in the background while a candle is burning, adding the “cozy” or Hygge to the night’s event. All in all a great experience.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when I came across this article on “The Good News Network” about how taking a cooking class has a magic pill like effect on our physical and mental well-being. This was great news, and collaborated on what I was already feeling about the experience. It got me thinking about what are the elements that come together to make a house a home? And how do we create those elements for ourselves? I’ve got a few ideas on the matter. Let me show you what I’ve come up with.

The Basic Elements Of A Cozy Home Start In The Kitchen

As I’ve said above, there are a few important components to building a comfortable, inviting home. For me, the number one element is cleanliness. If my living space isn’t organized and clean, then my mind isn’t able to rest. I keep focusing on the different aspect of what’s bothering me, what’s out of place.

For example, if my bedside table isn’t clear of clutter, I feel ill-at-ease. When things feel like they are just kind of drifting around my living space without a home, that’s when I know I need to organize.

Clean, Not Sterile

And that’s not to say that I’m so obsessed with cleaning that my environment is sterile. I’ve known people who clean to the point of sterility and this carries with it almost the same ill-at-ease feelings that living in a messy or dirty environment brings.

A good example of this is that when I make my bed, I don’t pull my covers taut over my mattress. I have a neatly folded duvet on the left side of my bed and I only sleep on the right side of my mattress. So making my bed proper would take a considerable amount of time. And this is time I just don’t want to spend making my bed.

So instead, I loosely lay my blanket on top of the side of the bed I sleep on. So my bed never looks neat and tidy as a bed with tightly formed hospital corners would. Instead it has a neat yet lived in feel. As though the room is thoughtfully cared for, but still embodies the character of something that’s been utilized, loved. Clean but not perfect. And all this to say that living in a sterile environment isn’t ideal.

How Clean Is Your Kitchen? You Can Usually Tell By The State Of Your Cutting Board

I use the same methodology when it comes to cleaning and caring for my kitchen. And the same way some people feel about making your bed every morning after you wake, I feel about cleaning my cutting board after I’m done with it.

The kitchen is where we spend a lot of time in our homes. It houses most all of our nutritional needs. We create or favorite meals there and it’s the place where we get clean water from. For staying hydrated throughout the day or to clean with, water the plants, the kitchen is literally where life is sustained.

So it stands to reason that if you neglect this room of your house, you are neglecting a large part of who you are as a living being. Food is so integral to us bonding with one another, as well as connected to our own and exploring other cultures, that it’s hard to imagine a life void of this type of expression.

For me, this is most noticeable on the cutting board. The cutting board is the hub of the kitchen and where almost every aspect of our meals come together. We process almost all our foods on it, use it as a holding place for most all our ingredients while getting our recipes prepped for cooking and it is paired with arguably the most important tool in the kitchen, our knife.

For these reasons, when I step up to my cutting board and see a stain from a recently cut tomato on it, or crumbs from a cut sandwich or piece of toast, I think, “what type of animal would disrespect the kitchen in this way?” This is hyperbole, but when I see a dirty cutting board I feel that there’s a little bit of neglect happening when it comes to respecting the ways we nourish and care for ourselves. Also, I don’t want to cut a fresh piece of melon on a spot where an onion and some garlic were recently diced/minced. Garlicy honeydew, no thank you.

Also, I’ve recently been oiling my cutting board and it’s never looked better. If you have the means, or already have a wooden cutting board, I suggest you get one and/or oil it regularly. It protects the board from water damage while also giving it a warm glow that looks amazing.

My cutting board after some much needed maintenance.

How Organized Are You? It Matters

Organization is an important part of the experience as well. For the same reasons that I feel ill-at-ease in cluttered surroundings, when I’m not sure where my kitchen tools or ingredients are, or have foods that are past their expiration date, I feel as though I’m neglecting an important part of my life.

For example, I work at a family homeless shelter six days a month. A few weeks ago I decided to organize the kitchen cabinets. I jumped right in and took a look at the state of the cabinets before I started. It was pretty bad. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the cabinets, scattering food debris all over the shelves in no particular order. I opened one cabinet to find that it was housing three plates. That was it. Not to mention all the food that was expired that I ended up tossing.

So I started asking the families what they would use more of if I brought food stuffs up from the pantry? Their answers? The most common one was, “I don’t eat the food from here”. This made me sad. We had neglected the food and kitchen so badly that people no longer wanted to use the incredible amount of free resources we had for them. And there was a lot of food that needed to be utilized.

And I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to cook in that kitchen the way it was either. And they’re not any less deserving of a clean, usable kitchen just because they’re homeless. That’s when I got to work. Tossing the old, out of date items and filling the cabinets with fresh stores, the way they’re displayed in a grocery. While I was organizing, I left the cabinets open to not only to keep track of my progress, but also to show the families that we have items for them to use, so jump in.

When I was done stocking the cabinets, everyone was excited. Even those who said they didn’t eat the food there were interested and using what I was bringing up. The kitchen now looks clean and inviting, more home like. And people are now gathering in the kitchen, cooking meals and connecting. The kitchen no longer resembles that of a twenty-something’s party house that maybe had a bag of stale chips and a can of dated beef stew, with a sink full of week old dishes. No bueno.

Rotating Your Stock to Stay Organized, Fresher Is Better

Next on the agenda was to take care of the root of the problem, the pantry. While I was going through the pantry to find goods for the cabinets, I was startled by how many food items had met their expiration dates. There were bins of half opened cases of food with expiration dates later than some unopened cases. Whole cases of canned goods and other items were past date. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I went through each item, checked their date and found a place for them on the shelves. I was rotating the stock, breaking down boxes, discarding the old, it was a dramatic shift.

I felt bad about throwing out some of the canned goods that were past their expirations by only a few months. This was because a quick google search tells me that they’re still viable usually for a year or two after the date on the can. But the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a psychological issue of using expired goods.

Imagine you’re in a homeless shelter. You have a mountain of problems and issues to get over and that’s not including taking care of your basic needs like doing your laundry, cleaning your living space and cooking meals. Also imagine that you have one or two children in tow, or are pregnant. Now it comes time to make dinner and you ask for a can of carrots because you don’t have a car to get to the closest grocery store which is only two miles away but a long walk for somebody with a child and arm loads of grocery bags. You get the carrots only to find that the expiration date is marked for nine months prior and you don’t want to dig around the cabinets that look as though an animal has nested in them. How do you feel then?

I’ve never been in that situation before, but I know for sure that it can’t be a good feeling. Feeling as though someone else feels that you’re not worth the effort of fresh food sounds like a difficult place to be. That’s why organizing and rotating your food stores is so important to feeling a sense of ease and comfort in your kitchen. For me, knowing that I can grab anything off the shelf and use it without worrying about whether it’s turned is an act of self-care.

Creating Hygge, Bringing It All Together

Once You’ve brought all the elements of the physical space together, then it will be easy to bring friends and family together, while adding the final touches to the space. I usually have a candle and some music playing while I’m bring meals together. The soft lighting from the candle and soothing sounds help to bring an element of calm to the kitchen and allows me to slow down a bit and relax.

All that’s left is to find what makes your space, more you. Maybe you have a favorite drink you can prepare for yourself to help unwind. Do you use a diffuser? Find a scent you enjoy and fill your space with. My go to is lavender oil. It brings a soothing quality to the room while not overpowering what I’m cooking.

And don’t forget the conversation! Invite a few friends over or start a family dinner night. This can be a great time to connect and get to know each other a little better while creating new memories. And don’t forget to relax. Go slow and take your time. There’s no rush and there’s something to be said for enjoying the process. I usually do just this when I’m cooking my self-care dinner on Tuesday nights now. You’ll def feel better about yourself and your surroundings. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Day 69: Inspiration” by protoflux is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Resources: What Even Are They?

Last week’s blog post was on how I had managed to acquire all sorts of unhealthy resources to navigate and deal with a life’s time worth of unfelt emotions. This week, I’d like to talk about some of the healthier versions of some of my old resources and new ones I’ve developed that bring me a sense of ease and calm. Get ready to feel good!

Let’s begin where we usually start our day, with coffee. As I mentioned last week, I drank a lot of coffee. This was mostly to push past the feelings of not wanting to do something, especially while I was tired. Plus, it felt good. The buzz I got from drinking lattes back to back allowed me to get a lot done in the time I had. It also, unfortunately, stopped me from thinking about the things I was doing and saying which allowed me to shirk the responsibility for being held accountable for my own words and actions. This was what I meant by letting the emotions pile up. I just never thought about them or just plain sped passed them.

So I stopped drinking caffeine for a while but along with feeling like I was avoiding it out of fear, I did enjoy the kickstart to my morning that caffeine delivers. So I started drinking it again, only this time around in the form of tea and set some boundaries around it. I usually only drink two to three cups a day now which is a vast improvement over my old habit, and there’s tons of variety with all the different types of teas!

If you’re into smoky things, I suggest Yerba Mate. It’s a plant native to South America that has smoky note to it. And it does have less caffeine than a cup of coffee, but not by much. So if you’re looking to cut back, this may not be the best option to replace coffee with, one for one. Other favorites of mine include, jasmine green, oolong and jade green. All having about half the caffeine of a normal cup of coffee.

They’re also great for making cold brew for the warmer weather. I usually put about four bags of tea to a gallon container and let the tea steep overnight. I remove the bags in the morning and have tea that’s ready to be iced and taken on my morning commute. So if you’re into iced beverages, this is a great option for making a large jug to drink throughout the week. If you’re in the Boston area, Mem Tea is a great place to pick up some loose leaf tea at a reasonable price.

As I mentioned last week, it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I realized that the ways I was living were not only unhealthy, but potentially very dangerous. I knew things needed to change, only I had no idea where to start. I began by looking around at who I had been looking to for guidance. Most of the people I had shared my time with I no longer spoke to, and the movies and characters I aspired to be like were self destructive. Tyler Durden from “Fight Club”, the Joker and Jim Morrison to name a few.

After I realized that I was trying to emulate the late Mr. Morrison, I knew something needed to change. So I stopped drinking alcohol. Entirely at first, but then I started to feel the same ways I did about avoiding caffeine. So I introduced it into my self-care dinner nights. I would have a beer with my meal, one that I enjoyed, and be present with the experience. I wasn’t trying to numb my emotions anymore. I felt a little relaxed but mostly enjoyed the taste and how it complimented my meal.

I used to brew beer when I was drinking more often, and it’s something I’ve been thinking of getting back into now that I have a healthier relationship with alcohol. And what feels even better is, I know I can have a drink with a friend while I’m out and not have to worry about what I’m avoiding in myself or emotionally. I can just enjoy the company of my friends, in the moment.

Along with incorporating a drink into my self-care meal, I also drink herbal teas before I go to bed now which has become a very important resource for me. Something like chamomile or another bedtime blend like this one from Allegro. And as the same with caffeinated teas, there are so many different types of herbal teas to choose from, I’m surprised that I ever chose to drink the few mixed drinks and beers I did.

I will usually light a few candles and sit back with my tea and relax or calmly plan what my upcoming day is going to look like. Put on some R&B tunes and I’m totally relaxed. It’s much easier now to manage the emotions and responsibilities I have without the fog of alcohol or medication clouding my focus. And I sleep better as well. Sure I’m still tired when I wake sometimes, but I feel more rested during the day.

When I’m not drinking tea, I’m drinking something like this golden milk recipe from Minimalist Baker. This recipe is great for getting cozy on a cold night next to a fire. Or a great compliment to a playlist you’re listening too to unwind from the day. Hot chocolate is another great option. Once you start looking, there are so many different choices to choose from. I usually take some time before I go to bed, about a half hour to forty-five minutes to just be still. This is prime tea drinking time for me.

Journalling is another resource for me, and a big one. This is a space where I plan out what the different areas of my life need, or what I’m experiencing at the time. I keep a planner section. This is where I put practical information, my weekly schedule, todo list, shopping lists, budget. Anything I need to run my household. But I also have other places in my journal to explore my emotions, likes and dreams.

I have lists for what I want my future to look like. As well as a place for the resources that help me to feel my best. Little reminders of what matters. So when I need them, I can just flip through the pages and find something positive. This is also where I keep a traditional journal. About all the things and feelings that are coming up throughout the days. A place to get a birds eye view and understanding of what it is that I’m going through.

Along with my written journal, I have a rough guide of what my week looks like written down on my phone, so I know I have some time carved out to take care of the things that need attention, including myself. I don’t stick to it religiously, but like I said above, it’s nice to know that I have some time carved out for what needs attention. I also use my phone as an extension of my written journal. A place to jot down things to put on my todo list, or emotional explorations for my journal. There’s a link to Ryder Carrol’s Bullet Journal method that I use in my Community page. Do a quick google search for bullet journaling and you’ll find a huge community of creative journalers sharing their ideas.

Cooking is something that has become a very important resource for me. I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts about how I never learned to nourish my body properly due to growing up in a toxic environment which extended to all things food. Also how cooking for myself now has been a soothing routine and has really done so much for my mental health around how I relate to food.

Whether it’s for my weekly meal prep, or my self-care dinner, the act of gathering the recipes and ingredients and slowly following each step of each recipe, while a scented candle burns and whatever I’m listening to at the time plays softly in a warmly lit kitchen, is something that brings me a real sense of ease and care. Knowing I can provide for, and nourish my body in healthful ways, considering that I was never taught how to in the past, has been a soothing ritual.

It’s more than a little scary to think about the ways I was treating myself and what I was putting into my body. There were days where I just didn’t eat. I was solely running on caffeine and alcohol. The food I make for myself now is truly an act of love, and I’m almost always surprised at how well it turns out! I was taught how to cook in a restaurant I used to work at in my early twenties by a woman from Bhutan, who was using Northern Indian cooking techniques to make Mexican and Asian inspired foods. And even though I didn’t appreciate the lessons then, I now understand how lucky I was to learn so much from such a talented chef.

Being able to cook for yourself has so many benefits. Exploring new cuisines and ingredients, trying out new dishes or finding a new favorite meal. Knowing how to cook for myself has carried me through many a difficult day. I’ll usually block off some time during the week to cook for the upcoming week. As I said above, I light a candle and put some music on. Whatever is reflecting of the mood I want to embody. Then I lay out my ingredients and go through the recipes I’ve selected one by one.

The heat from the range or oven, the smells from the freshly chopped veggies or smoked tofu (which if you have a smoker, def get yourself some tofu marinated in Braggs aminos to smoke). The aroma from the sauteing garlic, ginger and onions or the spices melding together in a rich and flavorful curry. These are the moments that turn the simple act of cooking a meal into a method of self-care. And we all need to eat to live! What better motivation to learn how and experiment!

Exercise is another important resource. My exercize comes in the forms of running and yoga. I used to lift weights in my early twenties. And even after I dislocated my shoulder while doing shoulder presses, I still continued to lift weights. This was mostly because I thought it would make me more of a man. One of my caregivers had lifted weights on and off during my childhood, so I was following in their footsteps in a way. And I didn’t mind it so much, but I was truly unhealthy while I was lifting. I was smoking about a pack of cigarettes a day, and was hungover more often than not while I was going to the gym. The whole picture ran counter to the healthy habits I was trying to cultivate. And like I said above, I was more concerned with how it made me look to others than how I felt.

The shift to working out to feel better happened for me in my early thirties. It started with running. I had just gotten out of a relationship after waking up emotionally from the traumas I had endured in my childhood. It felt like a fresh start. And one day I got it in me to start running. I’m not sure why, but I ran once or twice a week. Two miles around the city commons, where I used to live.

After a few years of running two mile routes, my workouts evolved. I gained a few running buddies along the way, increased my speed from eleven minute miles to eight-thirty, and even ran a half marathon at one point. I still run, though my mileage has decreased some. But the feeling of pushing myself just past what I feel my limits are is a good feeling. I no longer need to prove anything by pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Just enough to grow stronger. The ways muscle tears to grow bigger, the same happens when we push past our perceived limitations. We open ourselves up just a smidge more and make space to grow.

Yoga is in many ways similar to running. I know that when I hop on the mat, I’m learning how to show up in my body when it gets difficult, and staying with the dis-ease I find there. There’s also a sense of mastery of self, flowing through the vinyasas, knowing that people have been doing this for milenia. Taming the thinking mind and strengthening mind and body at the same time, forging a tighter bond in ourselves, with ourselves.

And the more we show up for our practice, the stronger we get. I practice both yoga and running once every four days, staggering the two, one day apart. And it’s been a relief shedding the limiting belief that yoga is something only for women to do. I was raised in an environment that was toxically masculine. There were strict gender roles that were enforced by threatening to withhold belonging from the familial unit.

When I realized that everyone that was threatening to withhold belonging was doing it because they felt uncertain of their belonging, it was easy to strike out on my own and find my own path. For me, my caregivers wanted me to fit into a specific idea of how a man should behave. And men did not do yoga in my family. But it’s hard to be upset with them, knowing the amount of fear that they are living with constantly. And for anyone who doesn’t think yoga is a workout, try sitting in chair pose for two minutes!

Also, another aspect of yoga that has been helpful is that it helped me to pay attention to my breathe. I hadn’t even thought of it until not too long ago, but I realized that I used to be a mouth breather. This happened after I looked at a few pictures of myself and found that my mouth was open in almost all of them.

Mouth breathing has a host of undesirable effects. One of them being that you only breathe into your upper lungs, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. This produces adrenaline due to not being able to enter a deep level of sleep. When you breathe through your nasal passage, you are breathing into your lower lungs. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system and helps to regulate your emotional state. If you’d like to read more about mouth vs. nasal breathing, check out this article.

Speaking of breathing, meditation is another resource that has given me the ability to stay present with myself and my emotions. I started meditating about the same time I started to run. It has evolved from my first time practicing, but has been a persistent and fulfilling practice. When I first started to meditate, I did so laying down. I think I had been running on fumes for so long that I needed to rest and relax without anything to aid me.

I later joined a sangha for a brief period. I now meditate on my own, using an app that has a form of digital sangha. This feature is nice because it allows you to thank those you’ve meditated with during your session. And the more you practice at different times, the more you will recognize faces from different times of the day. I’ve gotten in the habit of thanking a handful of people I see on a regular basis. And every once and awhile I’ll send them a message asking them how they are doing. It’s become a great way to connect with others over shared experiences.

Music is another of my go to resources. I have a few playlists that I have for when I have a particularly tough day. There’s something special about listening to a playlist of carefully curated songs, maybe while sipping a cup of herbal tea in a candle lit room as I’m doing now, that just feels relaxing.

I listen to a wide variety of artists and genres. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I listened to a lot of hardcore along with bands like Phish and the Dead. It was a strange mix to be sure. Since I’ve transitioned to the softer, singer-songwriter genre, but the love of music and its ability to transform a mood is still something I hold close.

I love the blues, and still remember the feelings of light and color I get when I was introduced to The Grateful Dead and hippie culture. There was a ripeness to it. A sense of welcoming and comfort but also excitement at the same time. And when I listen to some of those old songs from my past, I land just on the edge of that feeling.

I have one playlist specifically for when I need a boost of emotional support. It’s comprised of songs that all have a bit of advice or wisdom embedded in them. Things that I may have wished I heard when I was younger, or maybe some wisdom I need in the present. Whatever the songs mean to you, listening to a playlist of your favorite songs is like saying a kind affirmation to yourself over and over again. In a sweetly wrapped voice telling you that it’s alright, you’re gonna be just fine. This, along with countless other applications, music really has the ability to transform our ways of being.

If you’re interested to learn more about some of my resources, head on over to my community page. There I have many of the resources I’ve listed above. I’d also love to hear what you have as resources! Leave a message in the comments below if you feel so inclined. Thanks for reading, and I hope some of these suggestions have given you a new perspective on something that may be common place. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits:“Relax” by Roslan Tangah (aka Rasso) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Selling Image, Selling Belonging

Buying Into Belonging

Finding Belonging isn’t always easy. So naturally there are many ways to take advantage of our not feeling belonging. For example, there’s a store nearby that sells all things home related. Bedding, mugs, kitchen wares, furniture and the like. And, as part of my evening routine I’ve been in the habit of burning candles. I find they set a relaxing tone with their ambient light and they help to ease some of the stress from the day. So off I went, to said local store, in search of some candles.

As I was looking through the candles on the shelf, opening them up to see if their scent was something I’d enjoy, I came to one that had “Namaste” written in playful cursive across the front. I enjoyed the scent so I picked it up and walked to the check-out line. I was feeling a little off buying the candle for some reason that I couldn’t place. The message seemed to be in line with my meditation and yoga practice, so it wasn’t the phrase. If anything the word should have brought me some peace of mind.

Image and Belonging

I bought the candle anyway, brought it home, unwrapped it and left it on my shelf next to some plants. I looked at it again and still found I had some aversion to the lettering and the word. It vaguely reminded me of something my sister would purchase. It was white, floral scented, nothing assumingly off about it. Then I understood what was bothering me about it.

The candle itself was fine, it was what it was trying to sell me that bothered me. The image of what it feels like to have the divine in me, recognize the divine in you, that had me feeling a bit off. I was being sold a gender specific version of how the world should be viewed according to the ethos of the company that made the candle. I was buying into the image of the store who was selling the candle and supporting the message with my purchase, all to feel belonging.

Gender Roles and Image Branding

If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know that buying into gender specific roles such as self-care being a woman’s job, were the teachings I received from my early caregivers. And something I’ve been re-parenting myself around. Knowing that feelings and emotions are not gender specific, but part of the human experience. Also that self-care is just part of it, has not been easy.

And the feeling that this candle’s branding seemed to embody is that emotional peace and well-being are only available for a specific demographic. Most likely active, young and fresh smelling women. Who are probably successful, tan, wear a lot of white, and burned the types of candles I just purchased. Probably in an immaculate house, next to a freshly washed and folded stack of white linens. This all seems absurd to me. Or at very least, that I need someone who filled that description to provide for me the care I could not give myself. Which seems equally as absurd.

How We’re Raised and How That Effects Our Views

I recognize that I have a biased view considering my upbringing. And if someone finds peace of mind by burning that candle, I’m happy for them. But I feel there is a large gap in the yoga community, where men aren’t represented. This too can be a loaded topic. I’m sure women have found yoga to be a healing outlet. One to get in touch with their bodies in a healthy way. Especially after experiencing trauma or abuse. Most likely at the hands of men. But this still leaves men in my situation of not knowing whether or not they belong.

If we believe the gender specific ideas we are being sold by companies like the one who made the candle I bought, then yoga and that form of stress reduction belongs squarely in the realm of the feminine.

And I don’t mean to argue that the yoga community is gender bias. I’ve always felt welcome at every class I’ve attended. I’ve also had excellent instructors both male and female. But the idea that I somehow got a gender specific correlation with the candle I bought was unsettling. That I was sold a gender specific sense of belonging to a community where, according to the candle company’s sales team, I don’t belong.

Feeling Belonging is Important

I could be reading into this a bit. I have a minor in communications so the critical side of me comes to the forefront whenever I see advertising involved. Especially involving something I’m interested in. But I feel like this candle is part of a larger problem. If we hear time and again that something we’re interested in is exclusive to a certain demographic, we may begin to feel like an outsider. Like we’re not worthy of belonging.

The term “yoga pants” comes to mind as I’ve never heard them in reference to men, always how a woman looks in them. And if some of the joy we derive from our interests involves being a part of a community, then we could be missing out on the quality of our experiencing what brings us joy.

Repetitive Messaging and Our Belonging

And having a constant reminder on display is a good way to let a message settle in and get comfortable. Not to mention the advertising that we are inundated with day in and day out. While companies vy for our resources at the expense of excluding large groups of people. Their message being that you don’t belong. You’re not welcome here unless you fit our standards.

I could have just left the candle on the shelf. I could just chalk it up to not being in line with my personal taste. But it doesn’t feel right just to let it stand. The way I’m sure it doesn’t feel right the way some women may feel uncomfortable when they decide to put on a pair of yoga pants for fear of being ogled on there way to a yoga class or a coffee shop. The coercion of being corralled into thinking that you don’t belong to what you find enjoyable. That and feeling manipulated into unease around what usually sparks joy.

What We Can do About it

And I did like the candle. It was simple, white and had black lettering. I just didn’t like the implied image it was selling. So what’s the solution? How do we undo what advertisers and large corporations have successfully accomplished? Using an impressive amount of resources to brand their products to a target demographic? How do we shed our targets and live a little truer to our authenticity? Let’s look at some of the ways we may be taken advantage of, to understand better how to recognize and sidestep the trappings we often find ourselves in.

What’s Trending

Trends can be fun. It can feel nice to be part of something that is just for enjoyment. For instance, liking a new band for their hit song can be a pleasant way to remember a time and place. And the people you connected with at that time without going too deep. But there are a lot of ways that our wanting to feel belonging can be taken advantage of. Usually for someone else’s profit.

Trying to Buy Belonging

When I was in my mid-twenties, I was kind of obsessed with Pottery Barn. I liked the clean lines and muted tones they used while still feeling rustic. It was how I pictured my future home to look. Filled with a clean, conservative aesthetic. At the time I was planning to go to school for journalism. So I imagined I’d have a serious and important role to fill. Informing the masses of misdeeds and lapses in morality from those who held positions of power. And of course I needed a desk that would look as important as how I felt my duties would be.

So naturally I spent a large sum of money on a desk that held little more than a decanter of whiskey or scotch. Also don’t forget about the matching chess table which sat next to it. As though my desk was so important that it needed an assistant. I was just barely scraping by working as a social worker and had probably just enough money for groceries. More like beer actually. Buying an expensive desk from Pottery Barn that I barely used was definitely not in the budget. But there I was, with an expensive desk in an empty room. How did this happen? How was I so manipulated into feeling that this desk would not only help me to achieve my goals, but help conjure them into fruition? It starts with what we find value in.

Finding Value In Ourselves Not Our Things

What I didn’t realize at the time was, that the desk I purchased played to my perceived values. I thought that buying something that looked like those who had those values would have, would then thrust me into the mindset/mentality of the values that I wished to embody. Along with underlying currents of confusing taste and style with what I valued.

For example, I was a hippy in my late teens. Something I haven’t really shed. Mostly because of the feelings of when I was first introduced to the culture. Also the aesthetic was so positive, along with many of the values that most modern day hippies embody, are still in line with my current values. I.e. recycling, organic farming and living sustainably while fostering open and caring community. All aspects of the culture I value. Also values I wish to embody in my day to day life. Including my clothing and style.

Knowing When You Are Embodying Your Values and Not the Values of the Things You Own

There is also a serious side to me that very much likes order and to bring structure to chaos. So the rustic feel of the desk, looking as though it were made from reclaimed barn wood. Blended with the clean polished lines of the industrial, flat black, minimalist metal frame and the wood’s mirror finish, the desk appealed to both sides of me simultaneously. My enjoyment of a caring, natural community, represented by the look of reclaimed barn wood, mixed with the clean metal and highly glossed wood finish that filled my need for order. Both lead me to believe that this desk represented my values.

But it was not substitute for them. This is the trap that most people fall into when purchasing things they feel are in line with their values. The same ways I did with the desk. The wood was not reclaimed. In fact it was most likely harvested in a way that was environmentally unsound. Something not in line with my values.

You Can’t Buy Your Values

So it was no surprise that after buying the piece of furniture, I was left with my manipulated values sitting at my desk wondering, “why do I feel empty”. As though something didn’t add up. This was the other message that was being sold to me. That you could buy your values. Values from my experience are, something that you work to embody. Something practiced. Not something bought. In order to feel fulfilled from your values, you must first put the hours in.

But that takes work. Something I was not inclined to do in my twenties. And if I could buy a desk that looked the part, while allowing me to avoid the work I could have been putting in, then that was what my younger self would do. Of course at the time I was unaware of the dynamic at play. I was just trying to fill a part. One that looked most appealing and trendy at the time. Luckily for me there are plenty of stores willing to aid me in looking to avoid work.

So therein lies the danger. Being told that buying something that seems to embody your values is just as good as putting the work in to practice your values. And companies spend a lot of resources in order to sell you an image. Of what it feels and looks like, to embody your values by using their product.

The Perennial Problem

I’m not stating anything new here. And I hope I’m not blowing any minds. But I’m often surprised at how it feels like every generation finds another way of buying into this system of buying values. I feel a large part of this cycle is perpetuated by the feeling of a lack of belonging. If we’re trying to fill our sense of self worth with the values we hold closest but only have a desk to represent our values, then we’re left as I was. Behind a desk, feeling confused and a little empty.

Feeling confused and a little like a empty left me thinking “why do I feel this way?”. Which led to me feeling slightly guarded, not wanting people to see that I wasn’t confident in myself and the values I was trying to represent. The vulnerability of not knowing that the things I buy don’t guaranty my belonging, but also of not knowing what would if I couldn’t buy it.

Where Are We Learning These Lessons

These feelings and beliefs are deeply entrenched in our society. I know I’ve learned them not only from companies with assistance from large advertising firms, but also from my family. I mentioned this in my Search for a Blog page. When you question your own belonging to the people who are supposed to accept and love you unconditionally, there’s usually a fear that comes with the uncertainty.

“Who will or could love me now”, may take the place of love and belonging. And if we let it, it will dominate our thoughts and actions in our relationships. This is where I believe Brene Brown’s phrase, “hustling for worthiness”, may take control of our reasoning selves. If we feel we’ve been rejected by the people we love most, than the most important goal becomes how do I get back what I lost.

That’s when we turn to whatever feels good in the moment. Or somebodies “answer” to your feeling a lack of belonging. What Tara Brach refers to as “false refuges”. This could be anything from alcohol to shopping (as were the cases with me and my family). But also drugs or even using other people, are also examples of false refuges. And unsurprisingly, they aren’t sustainable and they usually cause harm to ourselves and others. Which is why they’re named false refuges.

Finding Our Way To Belonging

So how do we find our way out of these trappings of the false refuges or hustling for worthiness? One way is through acts of self-care. If you’ve read my post on why self-care is so important, you’ll know that it’s a way of dialoguing with our emotions. And also getting to know who we are and what we need to feel belonging. Most importantly to ourselves. Or as my dad likes to say, “be yourself, everyone else is already taken” -Oscar Wilde. Showing yourself that you care, you’re a priority, gives you the courage to find what your values are. The you without the “hustle”, or the “false refuges”.

Be Patient

Other ways to avoid the hustle is to be patient. After you know what your values are and you’re embodying those values by practicing them, dialogue with how something new makes you feel. After the excitement of something new subsides, is what you’re doing a way to practice your values? Or is it just novelty?

More often than not, the things that you do to bring joy to you practicing your values, won’t cost money. For instance, if you value spending time with friends, cooking a meal together can be more intimate and enjoyable than eating out. Or a rowdy night at the bar. But going to see a concert together can be a joyful experience as well. So it’s important to take a deeper look as to why you’re doing something. And ultimately it’s you that will know the answer. AKA, trust yourself.

Be Trusting and Forgiving

And sometimes we’ll make mistakes. After all, advertising is a large industry designed to make you spend your money. So be forgiving when you do stumble. Just because you’ve been fleeced, doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to feel unwanted or unloved. Stay true to and trust your values, they’ll guide the way.

I hope you’ve found this helpful in some way. It isn’t always easy, but don’t worry, the work becomes easier the more you do it :] Good luck and Peace.

Image Credits: “1960s Advertising – Magazine Ad – Campbell’s Soup (USA)” by ChowKaiDeng is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Self-Care: Setting Healthy Boundaries and Finding Balance

Setting healthy boundaries and balance. This is a tough one for a lot of folks including myself. We’re taught from an early age that it is better to give than to receive and that being selfless is a virtue. And in some cases those are noble values. But when the list of people to please and of tasks to do mount, what was a value can become a drain of your energy, vitality and your willingness to engage with those around you. And depending on the veracity to which you hold to these values, the effects can be dramatic.

Step One: Find Out Where Your Boundaries Are

I used to have poorly defined boundaries, as did those who were closest in to me. If I had a grievance with somebody, I would hold it in and resentment would eventually take hold. Leaving me with a silent grudge that was left to fester. But it wasn’t just me. Most of the people I was in close contact with day to day acted the same way. Arguments would erupt because of the smallest infraction or mistaken intention. All of which could have been avoided if we had just spoken candidly about how we felt about whatever the issue was.

I had a sort of falling out with a loved one recently who won’t talk to me because I asked them a question about a shared experience from our past. The question was benign enough. I asked if they had something from our youth that smelled of jasmine. They responded with, “I love you, but I just need time.” Time from what I’m not sure, but I know this person has a good heart. They just give more than they have to give and the result is, in this case anyway, a loss of a friend who could be a source of support.

We’ve all been in this person’s shoes. Too much to do and too many people and things to keep track of with not enough time to do it all in. The stress mounts until it feels like it’s all just too much to keep in. This is where setting healthy boundaries and finding balance by offsetting some of life’s stressors is most important. Ideally we would have some resources to fall back on before we get to this level of stress. But it’s never too late to take a break and give yourself the time and space needed to recover from the constant inflow of life stressors, whatever they may be.

Defining What Our Healthy Boundaries Look Like

One of the first steps in psychological self care is prevention. If the above scenario feels all too familiar, difficulty saying no to added responsibility, then setting healthy boundaries around saying no to added responsibility, will help to prevent some stress. It’s healthy to want to do for others. It’s one of the ways we create tight bonds and close relationships with one another and is one of the five love languages. But when we take on so much that the tasks we agree to do become a source of distress or breeds resentment, then we’re tearing apart the connections we were trying to build when we agreed to take them on in the first place.

Journaling

Alternately when stress does mount, journalling can be a way to put some distance between yourself and the situation. Giving yourself the time and space needed to gain a new perspective. Coming up with a resource list can be helpful as well. Something I’ve added to my journal for times when you feel as though you’ve run out of ideas or are just too tired to think. Check, been there 😀

I bullet journal. This is a mix of scrap booking/journaling/budgeting/day dreaming/daily planner, and whatever else you can put on a blank page. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination and it is a wonderful outlet for organizing life as it comes. I have a link to it over on my community page if you’re interested in starting one of your own. And don’t be intimidated either. You can start one regardless of whether or not you feel you’re artistic enough for such a project. It’s only for you anyways, unless you want to share it : )

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

Laughter is another obvious, though sometimes elusive resource and release from stress. It seems funny because at any given moment if I were asked if I’d like to have a good laugh, I would most likely be happy to. But I’m usually too preoccupied or engaged in what I’m doing to relax enough. If you’re uptight like I am, not to worry. Humor is something that can be cultivated. One way is by searching for shows or comedians that strike a chord with you. Or by finding an author who speaks to your sense of humor.

And don’t forget conversations with friends, family or co-workers that you are able to be comfortable with can also be a great comedic interlude to your day. We all have a friend who is funny regardless of what they’re doing or saying. Text them and see what they’re up to. Maybe start a conversation around a funny thing that happened to you in the past. And asking about others’ funny stories can be the start of a great conversation. From my experience there are some gems out there just waiting to be told!

Though, stressful times are often when it’s most difficult to focus on cultivating a relaxed state. Being mindful of the times we are stressed can be a powerful tool in helping us to come back to the mindset that can help cultivate a relaxed way of being, while aiding in developing a sense of humor. By recognizing we are stressed, we can then realize that it is a passing emotional state and allow it to flow through us. Rather than tighten our focus on how to stop, avoid or get rid of the stress.

Relax, You’ll Be Alright : )

Exploring and cultivating interests and hobbies. Saying no to stressful situations and responsibilities when you know you’ve taken too much on. Journaling or spending time with friends and family communicating and laughing, are all ways to help cultivate a relaxed state of being. They also allow us the time and space necessary to create the healthy boundaries and balance that are so important in caring for our mental health and well being.

So whether it’s asking a co-worker to pick up a task that you know you just won’t have the time to do. Writing about the emotions that come up during the day in your journal. Or finding a new comic or author to immerse yourself in. Taking time to recognize when you’re stressed and how to bring yourself back to a more relaxed version of you is a skill worth cultivating. And one that will bring you peace and balance. Peace and thanks for reading : )

“Finding balance” by James Jordan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Updated: 2/13/2022

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